Once old Dobbin the workhorse considered the vicissitudes of life. Clearly things were not looking up for the average workhorse. A lifetime of dedication to the work ethic was not going to ensure, as Dobbin had always assumed, a retirement of deserved rest and measured reflection. The chance to think back across the many years and the many challenges (each one met without complaint in the confidence that honest labor earned one a dignified end in this world) was looking less likely than a pink slip and the glue factory. Dobbin wasn’t one to complain that circumstances change and the world might leave one behind. The heyday of the workhorse couldn’t last forever. Progress had winners and losers, op-ed writers regularly opined, and there might turn out to be only the narrowest difference between the two. If Dobbin’s employer could find others to work longer hours for less at the far ends of the earth, that was the kind of progress high-powered management consultants typically earned their keep for, wasn’t it? Dignified ends were not a bottom-line concern in the business plan of globalization gurus. Like a raw spot left by a harness worn too long, however, repeated insistence on “bottom line this” and “bottom line that” might come to fester in one’s mind. What did bottom-line anything have to do, Dobbin wanted to know, with the amount of oneself that went into a working day? Did you add up the hours, subtract the minutes, and divide by pennies to be saved? About as nonsensical as it would have been in the past to judge a millhorse by the number of turns it took around the wheel or the total bags of flour it could manage to grind out if whipped for greater productivity. Was it, too, no more than a driven animal in an employer’s eyes, Dobbin snorted? Had the years of service produced no greater commitment to it in return than the millhorse of old knew? There was worth in labor itself, regardless of how much you could peddle its product for. And a virtue still in doing one’s part in the grand enterprise of bettering life for all that bottom-line calculations only cheapened. Being put out to pasture after a lifetime of unstinting exertion brought no honor anymore. No respect for what had earned one that rightful ease. Instead, you were unceremoniously led to the gate now, given a swift kick from behind, and sent off to face whatever lay ahead as if you deserved no better. While those who did the kicking were celebrated in the financial pages as downsizing wizards and awarded bonus packages that far outweighed all the hides of all the workhorses that had ever been in their employ. If this was increasingly considered business as usual, old Dobbin wanted to ask, what did utter bankruptcy look like?
Copyright © 2007 by Geoffrey Grosshans